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F1 Pre-Season Testing: Red Bull quickest, Ferrari most improved as Sainz goes fastest overall

Updated: Feb 27

Written by DIVEBOMB F1 Team - Owen Bradley, Dan Jones, Vyas Ponnuri, Hugh Waring, Max Smolarski, Sophie Harvey, Jenny Clynes, Meghana Sree, Tatsbhita Reva Bevani

After nearly 100 days since the last Formula One race at Abu Dhabi, F1 finally returns to our screens for the Bahrain Grand Prix, at the Sakhir circuit. Pre-Season testing showed the paddock and a lot of fans some very interesting things, with Red Bull still the team to beat and the rest playing catch-up - here is your rundown of how each and every team performed during Pre-Season testing in 2024.

Red Bull - Dan Jones

Credit: Mark Thompson

After a record-breaking 2023,a radical Red Bull RB20 was seen in the flesh for the first time at the Bahrain pre-season test, with once again Red Bull’s advantage seemingly stable at the end of the three days testing at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Verstappen sat a comfortable 1.1 seconds clear of the pack at the conclusion of Wednesday’s on-track activities, in a similar position that he found himself in throughout the entirety of 2023. The impressive start to proceedings brought out a raw smile from Verstappen’s race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, with the seeming indication that Red Bull had found the magic formula once again.

The new design approach has been adopted by the Milton Keynes-based team, whilst others head in the opposite direction. The ‘zero-pod,’ concept, infamously used by Mercedes, has been hinted at early on, with suggestions that a no sidepods might appear by the time Formula One heads to Japan in April.

The Ferrari’s set the pace on Thursday and Friday on their ‘glory runs,’ but as always in testing, has to be taken with a pinch of salt, the RB20 expected to have a significant advantage once the engines are turned up this weekend.

Race pace was unsurprisingly strong, Verstappen being the fastest of anyone on Friday’s long runs, Verstappen logging in at the low 1:37 mark on the C1 tyres as well as the C3. Fernando Alonso stated ‘I think after seeing Max and the Red Bull car this year, there are less chances for everybody to win a race this year.’

A strong start for Red Bull, with the incling being the advantage is to be locked in for yet another season.

Ferrari - Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Michael Potts

Ferrari left testing optimistic, once again, and look to be clear second-best behind Red Bull heading into 2024. This was despite another encounter with a drain cover damaging Leclerc’s Ferrari on day two, causing a halt to proceedings. 

Even still, days two and three saw Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz set the quickest times of the respective days, sparking optimism in the Ferrari camp. While it’s advisable not to jump to conclusions from the testing times, you can already tell both Leclerc and Sainz were feeling comfortable in their new ride. 

Heading into his second season, team principal Fred Vasseur quickly shut all thoughts of 2024 being a transition year ahead of the arrival of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton into the Maranello stronghold in 2025. He firmly spoke of the team looking to continue on their resurgence in 2023, looking to win races more frequently. 

The main goal of the SF24 was to solve a perennial issue plaguing the Ferraris of yesteryears — tyre degradation. While the SF23 propelled Leclerc and Sainz to seven poles in 2023, the duo often found themselves falling back, as the Ferrari worked its tyres harder on race day, more so than their competitors. 

The car was also prone to being peaky, and extremely susceptible to windy conditions, meaning both their drivers didn’t have enough confidence to push to the limit. However, it’s better heading into 2024, with the SF24 looking more planted and stable around Bahrain’s long, sweeping contours. 

The team looks to have finally solved their tyre degradation woes too, with the SF24 reporting much less degradation over a race simulation. This has translated to an improvement in race pace too, with the team only an average of 0.2s off class leaders Red Bull in testing ,once the times were crunched. 

While Ferrari may not challenge Red Bull for out and out pace in 2024, the testing times give them a solid base to work from, and with more upgrades expected in the pipeline, expect the Italian team to be closer to battling for wins, as the season goes on. 

Mercedes - Hugh Waring

Credit: Michael Potts

Team Optimistic After Positive Testing in Bahrain

In the world of Formula 1, Mercedes might just be on the brink of a breakthrough after two years of playing catch-up in the new ground effect era. The team, which was a 2021 title contender but found itself relegated to a distant chasing pack behind Red Bull in the past two seasons, has been tirelessly working to rectify its shortcomings.

Last year, Mercedes realized it had erred in sticking with its 2022 concept for 2023, prompting a significant shift in their design philosophy. The result of this course correction is the W15, and early indications from testing in Bahrain suggest that Mercedes might finally be closing the gap on Red Bull.

The W15 has received positive reviews after three days of testing, showcasing improvements in handling and performance compared to its predecessor, the W14. Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes' trackside engineering director, emphasized the progress made in understanding the new car.

"We’ve managed to make good progress understanding the W15, compared to last year’s car. The feedback from the drivers is very different and more positive, which is encouraging," Shovlin explained. "The team has worked hard to iron out the handling flaws that were integral to the W14, and it’s great that we seem to have put a number of those problems behind us."

Despite not yet being a Red Bull-beater, the W15 represents a significant step forward for Mercedes. Shovlin acknowledged that predicting pace from testing is challenging, but he emphasized that the team is in a much better position than 12 months ago.

While the lap times may not be spectacular compared to the competition, there is a sense of optimism within the team. George Russell's best lap was half a tenth slower than Charles Leclerc’s day three benchmark, and four tenths behind Carlos Sainz’s outright fastest lap of the test. The consensus in the paddock suggests a small step back from last year, with a third-fastest position at best.

Mercedes acknowledges the need for additional performance but considers the establishment of a workable platform with the W15 a significant achievement. The team seems to have addressed some of its worst traits that previously plagued its cars, with Shovlin stating that the W15 puts "a number of those problems behind us."

Lewis Hamilton, despite acknowledging that there is work to be done, expressed optimism, calling it "a really good test" and "massively encouraging." The team understands that pure performance is not the sole criteria at this stage; building a strong foundation to progress from is equally crucial.

Mercedes, once a dominant force in Formula 1, appears to be on the right path to reclaiming its competitive edge. While cautious in their expectations, the team believes that the W15 might just be the answer to the challenges it has faced in the last two years. The upcoming races will be the true test of whether Mercedes can translate its testing promise into on-track success.

McLaren - Max Smolarski

Credit: Peter Fox

McLaren were the in-season development shocker after providing major upgrades midway through the season that put them in or near the front running on multiple occasions. However, the more important development is usually done during the winter break, and for the Woking team, their new concepts seem to have improved upon their new design philosophy that was implemented in Austria.

The first thing noticed as a major change on the MCL38 is around the sidepod inlet area, where a sort-of wing has emerged, and the inlet itself is slimmer at the front and very RB19-esque at the back. There was big potential between seasons for McLaren to work on aerodynamic efficiency/drag reduction, and it appears that one of the larger steps towards that plan has already been implemented for the start of the season.

The next bit of performance change came with a more streamlined front wing, with the air coming in being more easily washed out to the endplate and interacting with the front tyre wake. This not only helps the aforementioned drag reduction, but also adds a slight improvement to both aero grip and mechanical grip.

As for how much the team achieved over the winter, Stella said he was a little distasteful that not every plan was put in place before testing; “not all the areas we want to address have been completed for our launch-spec car. [However,] those areas now become the focus of our in-season development.”

McLaren had a mostly positive running during testing, with only a couple warnings heading into race week. In particular, Piastri’s long runs on Day 3 were pointed out as a potential worry for the team. However, with Norris unable to do any morning long runs due to a clutch issue, it’s hard to tell where the car is, as last season, Piastri pointed out at least on one occasion that he struggled to manage tyre wear throughout stints.

So, how did they do in testing, especially compared to the rest? Well, obviously it’s hard to tell what engine mode was used and how much fuel was in each session. It’s important to state this since, unless there is a reliability problem, teams will aim to use one engine through the entire 24 hours of running, amounting to at least a few race weekends of running in three days. Despite this, many experts on-track suggest they will be battling or slightly ahead of Mercedes and Aston Martin, but still behind Ferrari and Red Bull. 

Final comments on testing from Stella suggested that Bahrain isn’t the best track for the current McLaren, but “from a performance point of view, the MCL38 showed us what we expected on the track.” McLaren have not had a smooth winter testing for a number of years, so the performance they put in these past few days bring hope to a powerful season for the men and women in papaya.

Aston Martin - Owen Bradley

Credit: Rudy Carezzovoli

Aston Martin had their greatest season in F1 just last season, with Fernando Alonso scoring eight podiums across the season, in one of his own best seasons since the Ferrari days. They had made a huge step forward coming off the back of a slightly mediocre year in 2022. Therefore, as we head into 2024 very soon, many eyes are fixated on Aston Martin and the package they will be able to bring. After Pre-Season testing, here is the overview of what to expect from Aston Martin in 2024.

Alonso had a personal best time around Sakhir, of 1:31.159 putting him around half a second from Red Bull’s fastest time set by Sergio Perez. Now, with pre-season testing, many things need to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, it does appear throughout testing at least that Aston Martin will be in a similar position to where they were in March 2023, challenging for podiums on frequent occasions but ultimately still slightly short of the mark. 

The team is in a slightly strange position: Alonso is getting slightly older and will likely be exiting Formula One within the next five years at a maximum. Lance Stroll has had many rumours and reports about his dedication to Formula One, and these rumours typically include that he may try other sports like Tennis. Aston Martin have a great team, with a legendary driver leading the way, but looking ahead it does position the team in a weird place where they desperately need a team leader, and one who will stick with them for many years to come. 

They’ve made so much progress since their inception in 2021, with a mediocre 2022 season turned great 2023, where does this leave them for 2024? Well, ultimately in the same position as the end of 2023. Alonso will still likely be able to defend from the Mercedes, Ferrari’s and McLaren’s over the course of a stint, but over an entire race it may become more tricky. The true and most telling pieces of information will be revealed in FP1 at Bahrain later this week.

Alpine - Sophie Harvey

Credit: Rudy Carezzovoli

Last year proved to be a shambles for Alpine, sitting faster than the likes of Haas, Williams’, Alfa Romeo and Alphatauri, but incapable of fighting the front runners. Out with the old and in with the new was the only acceptable strategy for the Enstone-based team.

Alpine’s Technical Director, Matt Harman, has made it clear that the team has entered testing with an entirely new concept, claiming to have ‘focused on learning and reacting to what we have learnt rather than on results’.

Testing got off to a bumpy start in Sakhir, with Esteban Ocon’s A524 snapping into the gravel, almost as soon as it hit the track — most likely due to the track’s sandy and slippery nature, alongside the fact that little rubber had been laid. 

Reports also identified a potential engine deficit of upto 15 horsepower in comparison to Alpine’s rivals, making the situation far from ideal. Pierre Gasly drove the car into the afternoon, continuing with system and front wing checks — of which, things seemed to be going well.

Rounding off day one, Gasly is the Frenchman who fared better, ending the day in 5th and setting a time of 1:32.805. Meanwhile, Ocon settled for 16th with a lap of 1:34.677.

As for day two, Gasly took to the wheel first. However, his track time was short lived — the red flag ended his stint early with a fastest lap of 1:33.804, setting him in 14th. Ocon went on to set double the amount of laps, providing a plethora of data for the team to exploit. His best lap secured a spot in 8th, with a time of 1:32.061.

Ocon was the first of the pair to wrap up testing, setting a lap of 1:32.061 onto the timing sheets, placing him in 8th. Gasly was one of final runners, completing his three days of tests with a lap of 1:33.804, enough to be 14th fastest. 

Formula 1’s official qualifying and race pace simulations predict that this year’s Alpine is on par with that of Sauber — far from where they would have hoped to be. Although a disappointing fortune, the A524 seems to be far more reliable than its predecessor. Will this be enough to catch Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes or Aston Martin? For that, we will have to sit tight for Bahrain.

Williams - Jenny Clynes

Credit:  Rudy Carezzovoli

Last season was a relatively successful year for the iconic British team with their seventh place finish, with James Vowles stating at the end of 2023 that he aims to get the team back on the top end of the constructors. 

Bahrain was the first time that the FW46 was shown to the world after the release of the car earlier in February, and the rich blue livery shone brightly under the Bahrain sun and glittered into the early evening.

Both Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant took to the track on Day One of testing. Albon completed a total of 40 laps, coming in 15th place overall. His best time of the day came in at 1:34.587, and overall the Thai driver did not have many obvious issues with his car. Logan Sargeant however, was not so successful as he had some problems with the car specifically at turn nine when he spun off the track, and later on when he had to go back to the pits due to a suspected driveshaft issue. Sargeant did manage to complete 21 laps in total and came in 11th in the day's standings with a time of 1:33.882. 

Day two of testing consisted of only Sargeant out on the tracks. The US driver completed 117 laps in total but still had several problems through the sessions including a half spin at turn ten and a number of slight technical issues. Overall however, the 23-year-old stayed in 11th place and had an improved time of 1:32.578. In a post-testing interview, Sargeant reported that he felt that the testing was an overall “positive” experience for the team. 

The third and final day of testing was Alex Albon’s opportunity to get to better grips with the car. It was a fairly smooth day for the team on track with 121 laps completed at a time of 1:30.984, giving them their best finish of the testing period by coming in sixth place of the day. Albon has reported that the FW46 has noticeable behaviour as well as performance differences compared to their previous cars which will be interesting to learn more about as the 2024 season unfolds. 

The Williams Formula One team has been determined to make their way back up to one of the top teams in the Constructors Championship for many years, and after the 2023 season with a new team principal, a new up-and-coming rookie and the already distinguished skills of Alex Albon, things have certainly started to look more positive. The 2024 season will see the team fight to continue this more positive trajectory, and overall we may begin to see a more and more competitive Williams. 

Visa CashApp Red Bull - Owen Bradley

Credit: Michael Potts

Formerly Alphatauri, the freshly named Italian junior team to Red Bull Racing begins another season, with Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda driving what will hopefully be, a full season. Visa CashApp Red Bull or “VCARB” in short, have really surprised a lot of people in Pre-Season.

Yuki Tsunoda had the better personal best time, with a 1:30.775 which was only a single tenth of a second from the main Red Bull Racing team. Daniel Ricciardo has surely been using his winter break wisely, with 2024 being his first full-season since leaving McLaren at the end of 2022. Ricciardo was dealt a difficult hand during the 2023 season, literally breaking his hand at the Dutch Grand Prix whilst in Practice. Replaced by Liam Lawson, who impressed many people as a rookie, Ricciardo is going to need to fight to stay on the F1 grid this year, and with the car seemingly being in an impressive state, hopefully their race pace will also be strong enough to challenge the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Aston Martin.

Stake F1 - Meghana Sree

Credit: Michael Potts

With a striking new identity, and even more striking new colours, the stakes are definitely higher this year for the Stake F1 team. After a dismal 2023 season, the freshly re-branded team is hoping for a decent or at least promising 2024 season. Miracles aren’t on the cards, but consistency and reliability are.

Consistency during the Pre-Season Testing was shown in the form of the team making it to the top ten fastest times on all three days of testing, with the fastest time for the team being delivered by Guanyu Zhou with a 1:30.647. Valtteri Bottas’ personal fastest time was set on Day 2 of testing with a 1:32.227.

Bottas’ morning session of Day 3 was hindered by precautionary checks on the C44 for a suspect technical issue, followed by a red flag due to a loose drain cover on track. Nonetheless, the afternoon session proved to be productive, and over the course of all the three days, Stake F1 completed 379 laps.

After a round of successful testing sessions, Technical Director James Key commented: “Overall, it's been three productive days full of learnings for our team, and all the data gathered will provide a solid foundation to work on ahead of the first race of the season.”

Although testing lap times are not completely indicative of a team’s position with regards to other competitors, based on an analysis of similar tyre compound and fuel load runnings from other teams, it can be predicted that Stake F1 will be a strong contender in the midfield; firmly lifting themselves up from their previous year’s position as one of the backmarkers of the grid. 

The Hinwil-based outfit is gearing up for a pivotal season this year, as it marks one of the primary phases in the team’s transition to operating under the Audi F1 identity in 2026. This year will give the team ample opportunities to carry out tests, experiment with new concepts, push limits with designs, and perfect their strategy. With a radical car design intending to be carried over to 2025 as well, including a new front suspension and monocoque, the team is preparing to set up a solid foundation for their 2026 season with Audi.

Haas - Tatsbhita Reva Bevani

Credit: Michael Potts

After bidding team boss Guenther Steiner adieu, the 2024 season was off to a dubious start for Haas F1 Team. Recalling how the team finished the previous season last in Constructors’ with only 12 points, there were presumably expectations placed on the development of the VF-24. On the contrary, Haas’ newest Team Principal, Ayao Komatsu, has been forthright about the car’s development. Being realistic about the progress of their contender this year – which unfortunately failed to yield significant results – prompted Komatsu to think that the two Haas cars would finish ‘in the back of the grid, if not last.’

For the VF-23, tire management was a major issue. Haas made the decision to fully utilise the first day of testing to address the issue that persisted in 2023. Running on Pirelli’s C2 and C3 tires, drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg completed 148 laps in the first day of pre-season testing with emphasis laying solidly on tire management analysis. Hulkenberg finished 18th on the scoreboard with 1:35.906 after completing 82 laps, further behind teammate Magnussen by a second. 

Hulkenberg had to wrap up his morning earlier due to the session coming to a halt on the second testing day. He managed to record a final lap time of 1:37.509 in the timesheets, while Magnussen finished with a time of 1:36.611 – a 3-second gap behind Pierre Gasly in the Alpine.

Magnussen clocked the fastest lap of 1:33.053 on the third and final day, good for 16th place on the sheets. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg secured 11th with a lap time of 1:31.688. Collectively, the two drivers rounded up a total of 441 laps, indicating – in Komatsu’s words – a ‘very, very good day.’ The team was able to get their sights locked on the VF-24 during high-fuel race running, despite the fact that the issue is yet to be entirely resolved. Over the course of the three testing days, it is vivid that the team gathered a hefty amount of impressions and data for further analysis. 

Haas’ upcoming 2024 campaign depends solely on the advancement made to their car. Whether or not it is a possibility for the team to finally achieve their 2023 hopes and dreams to return back to the mid-field, only time and races will tell.

With all this being said, race weekend is nearly upon us! So stayed tuned for the opening round of this extraordinary season ahead!


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